Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. He writes supernatural suspense and is currently at work on another such book, much to his mother’s chagrin (“Why can’t you write a nice romance?”). In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Visit his website: Twitter: and Facebook:

How NOT To Get Published

More Questions from the Old Mailbag

Welcome back to another exciting edition of “How Not to Get Published” (or as they call it in the editorial offices, Oh, Lord, He’s At It Again). This month we’re dusting off the old mailbag and digging in to answer some of the pressing writer-type questions that have plagued writer-types for ages. Okay, if I had an actual mailbag, I would have dug in it. Still, there are questions to be answered, so let’s get right to it.

What’s the difference between Print on Demand (POD) and self-publishing? How does POD publishing affect my chances for success?

These questions come up on a regular basis, and since they are so closely related in the minds of many writers, I am combining them.

First, POD is a printing process. It is the way words and images get on the page.

Essentially, there are nine basic printing processes: offset lithography, engraving, thermography, reprographics, digital printing (POD falls in this category), letterpress (think Guttenberg), screen press (used for T-shirts and billboards), flexography, and gravure (used for large magazine and catalog press runs).

The method/process of printing has nothing to do with whether a publishing company is a traditional royalty paying company or a self-publishing company. It is just the way the company gets the words on paper.

Literary agent Terry Burns put the POD question in perspective this way: “I say this over and over again: POD is a method of printing a book, period. People need to look past the print process to the publisher and see what they do and do not do. There are some relatively large publishers that use POD, publishers that take returns, publishers who have entry points to bookstores and have competitive prices. We simply cannot paint all publishers with the same POD brush. We need to evaluate the publishers, not the print process.

“Just as the auto industry and other manufacturing entities went to a ‘just in time’ inventory system to get parts delivered as they need them, we see more publishers reduce warehousing costs by having books printed and shipped in response to orders. Many of the pitfalls [associated with some POD publishers] is true for a lot of self-published books, and to many they feel the terms self-published and POD are synonymous—they are not. One is a type of publishing, and the other is a method of printing a book. We need to learn to separate these two terms in our minds.”

Ultimately it’s not how the words get on the page, it comes down to what you and the publisher are able to work out about the finished product.

Do I really need an office or a specific place to write?

In the old days, somewhere between the time the last dinosaur died and the first man walked on the moon, the general rule was that you carved out a spot (office, kitchen table, etc.) and used that place to write all of the time. And there are some valid reasons for doing so. If you have a specific place to write, over time you actually train yourself to view that as your “writing place” and to respond accordingly. A specific writing place makes it easier to get into the “writing mode.” It helps you focus, concentrate, and reinforces the mechanics associated with writing.

But rules were made to be broken. With the advent of laptops, tablets, handheld devices, and our more mobile society, many people find they can write just as effectively on the train, on the deck, in the local coffee shop, and just about any other place. In fact, author Jonathan Maberry (creator of the Joe Ledger series and a writer for The X-Men) does much of his writing at his local Barnes & Noble. As he says on his website: “I do a lot of my writing there (they have Wi-Fi, coffee and . . . hey, books!) My novel, Patient Zero, was written cover-to-cover in bookstore coffee shops, as were its sequels.”

The important thing for writers is not so much where they write as long as they write on a regular basis And as one who has an office and also writes on cruise ships, tropical islands, coffee shops, and in airports, even us old dogs can still learn a few new tricks.

And yes, writing on an island is just as cool as it sounds like it would be.

What is the best tool a writer can have?

I’m assuming we’re not talking about the kind of computer/laptop/etc., needed to write with, so we’ll move on to other tools. I’m going to step out on a limb and give you an answer I’ve never seen anywhere else. While there are many excellent resources (market guides, writing software packages, productivity aids, and writer/critique groups), I think the best tool a writer can have is a plan.

What do you want to write? How will you make the writing happen? What outlets are available for the writing? If you take an honest look at what it is you want to do with your writing, that will lead you to the nuts-and-bolts items you’ll need. But without a well thought-out plan, the tools are just stuff.

What is the best trait for a writer to have?

An iron butt.

Should my book have a prologue, and if so, how long should it be?

I don’t know, and I don’t know.

Seriously, agents and editors have differing opinions on this question. Some don’t mind prologues and some prefer you start with chapter one. If the prologue is little more than an information dump before the “real book” starts, you probably should cut it. If it is integral to the story and serves a real purpose, you might be on the right track.

That being said, the best answer is this: If the prologue sets up important elements of the story, if it contributes to the readers’ understanding of the plot, if it foreshadows an important event in the book, a prologue might be a good way to start.

Ultimately it comes down to whether the book needs a prologue, and there is no hard-and-fast rule for that. Either it works or it doesn’t. The key is providing important information that would be less effective if presented another way, and that is different with every book. My first novel had a prologue. The new one doesn’t.

As for length, it should be long enough to get the job done. And that, too, is subjective.

Check out a few novels at your local bookstore (or your bookshelf at home). Get a feel for what works and why it works.

Is this the last question?



Soemthing Stirs